The Last Laugh by Bruce Costello

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The Last Laugh by Bruce Costello
Illustration by Sue Babcock

The grey shape receded into the wood veneer wall, where her eyes and mouth morphed perfectly into the knots, her long skinny arms and legs into faux red strands of resinous grain.

A shaven headed man, sucking on a brown bottle at the kitchen table, glanced up and stared at the wall through an alcoholic mist.

“Bloody hell. Gives me the spooks. Like the eyes in an old portrait that follows you round the room.”

The shape screwed up her face and remembered.

Forty years of stifled creativity, of not being who I was and could’ve been. Forty years of being who he wanted me to be, of pleasing and appeasing, and sex on demand. Not wanting to get up in the morning in a house where his emotions reigned supreme and my life was nothing but an adaptation, an adjunct to his moods and selfish needs.

She put her head in her hands and the man pushed back his chair.

Now the bloody wall was swelling out towards him.

With stringy fingers grasping a stick of wood for support, the shape emerged in the form of a woman. She limped into the space between them, white-haired, wearing a checked apron with singe marks along the hem.

The man looked into his beer. “What the hell have they put in this crap?”

The old woman bent over him and whispered. “Forty years of being told I didn’t need it, shouldn’t, oughtn’t, couldn’t! Of being humiliated, interrogated, suffocated. Of becoming what you accused me of being.”

“Why are you telling me all this?” the man spluttered, wiping his brow with the back of a shaking hand.

“When a tree falls in the forest, does it make a noise if the woodcutter is not there to hear it?”

The woman straightened, grew taller and went back into the wall. The stick she was holding changed into a rifle. She inserted the end of the barrel in her mouth, pulled the trigger and vanished.

The man finished his beer, undressed and went to the bedroom, feeling horny.

His young wife was lying on the bed, naked, in the position he favored. Her face wore an amused smile. Her blue eyes were laughing. The back of her head and her brains were splattered over the recently renovated bedroom wall.


AUTHOR BIO: Bruce Costello is a New Zealander. After studying foreign languages and literature in the late sixties, he spent a few years selling used cars. Then he worked as a radio creative writer for fourteen years, before training in psychoanalytically-oriented psychotherapy and spending 24 years in private practice. In 2010, he semi-retired and took up writing for fun and to avoid housework. Since then, he’s had 62 stories accepted by mainstream magazines and literary journals in six countries. He still does housework.